At 25: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”

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December 1, 2014 by billysparrow


National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Released: December 1, 1989

Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Johnny Galecki, Juliette Lewis, Miriam Flynn, John Randolph, Diane Ladd, E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, William Hickey, Mae Questel, Ellen Hamilton Latzen, Cody Burger, Brian Doyle Murray

Because I have been told that all things are possible, I suppose I must accept that it is in fact possible to not like “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” This supposition makes me sad, because it means that there are people on earth right at this very second who have watched this movie and as the credits rolled thought, “Nah, I didn’t care for that.” How can we live knowing that such monsters exist?

And I say “we” there because, well, if you’re reading this and you don’t like “Christmas Vacation,” you are a monster with a really poor sense of time management and a touch of a masochistic streak. For I am about to launch into a lengthy treatise on why “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is truly the only Christmas movie that matters.

How long does it take before you know the movie will be great? Oh, about two seconds, because that’s when you hear the great voice of Mavis Staples singing a song written by the equally great Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. While waiting on line to meet Cynthia Weil at BookCon this year, I was Googling her songwriting credits to see which of her many classic songs (see “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” “We Gotta Get Outta This Place,” “On Broadway,” “You’re My Soul and Inspiration,” and on and on) I wanted to bring up in our brief interaction. And that’s when I realized she cowrote this one. So I thanked her for all the songs she’s written and brought up “Christmas Vacation.” “That was a fun one,” she said. And that was my time with Cynthia Weil. Well spent.

And then we go right from that to the much-beloved Griswold Family Car Singalong. Take it, Russ!

I am realizing now that I could probably go scene by scene and point out at least one thing that’s great about each scene. So, you want me to do that, right? What’s that? You’d rather go watch some porn? Or punch yourself in the head repeatedly? Maybe both? Sounds like someone hasn’t latched onto the holiday spirit. C’mon. ‘Tis the season to be merry.

Who’s better than Chevy Chase? Or at least who’s better than him in movies, and not necessarily, allegedly, when making said movies or television shows?

Some would say this is the last great Chevy Chase movie. And, double-checking his IMDB page, it looks like I am some. But even if it is, and even if he is, allegedly, not the easiest person to work with, and even if I had to put in about an hour’s worth of time at an event gauging from a distance whether he would bite my head off if I asked him to sign my Clark Griswold Blackhawks jersey, who cares? If he only did the Vacation movies (well, three of them), he would still be a comedy god.

And, though it was touch and go, he didn’t bite my head off when he signed my Griswold jersey, now a prized possession.

1010196_10151783570003714_1704119064_nBut it would not be fair to say “Christmas Vacation” is great solely because of Chevy Chase. No, it is great because there are no weak links in the cast at all. Not one. Beverly D’Angelo is her usual steady Ellen, Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis (who really doesn’t get to do much) are solid as the latest Rusty and Audrey. Both sets of parents (Doris Roberts and E.G. Marshall as Ellen’s folks and Diane Ladd and John Randolph as Clark’s parents) are fantastic (Randolph is my favorite of the bunch). Brian Doyle Murray is his usual incredible self as Clark’s boss, Frank Shirley. And, lest we forget, there is Mae Questel knocking it out of the park in her last movie as Aunt Bethany and one of my cinematic heroes, William Hickey, bringing the full-throttle crotchetiness as Uncle Lewis.

A couple of Christmas seasons ago, which of us went to a cemetery in Brooklyn to pay his respects to William Hickey by saying a little prayer of thanks at his gravesite? Oh, that’s right. It was me. I take the laughs William Hickey brought to my life very seriously.


But enough talk about my odd visits to celebrities’ tombstones. Or at least confine that talk amongst yourselves. I don’t need to hear it.

You might have noticed that I have left off one major actor in this “Christmas Vacation”  salute. Or maybe you didn’t notice, in which case you might be an imbecile. For there is no discussion (Is this a discussion, or just me yelling at you? I doubt we’ll ever know for sure.) of “Christmas Vacation” that cannot devote a good chunk of time to the genius of Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie. As Exhibit A, I present the scene where Clark and Eddie catch up on things. I can probably do the whole scene verbatim. Ask me the next time you see me. It’ll be fun.

Props also to the whole Cousin Eddie clan, including the silent Rocky (Cody Burger), Ruby Sue (Ellen Hamilton Latzen, whom, yes, I did just look up on Twitter, and she appears to like the Avett Brothers, so we’ll probably start hanging out soon), and the underrated Miriam Flynn as Cousin Catherine. Flynn’s genuine laughter during the DVD commentary for the movie is a highlight (Chevy Chase was, I guess, not available).

“Christmas Vacation” is a movie overflowing with classic, quotable scenes, but the scene at the dinner table is probably the centerpiece of the movie. So much goodness from all involved.

Or maybe the centerpiece is one of Clark’s rants when things start to spiral out of control.

Or maybe it’s Cousin Eddie’s most quotable line.

All of them great, and all of them worthy candidates for best scene in the movie. But, despite the fact that it is one of the only great scenes in the movie that doesn’t feature Randy Quaid, I am going to have to go with this as my favorite moment. It is the reason why every time I see a squirrel, John Randolph’s voice resounds in my head.

Have I convinced you that “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is the only Christmas movie that matters? Or shall I go on for another thousand words? What’s that? You’ve had enough? You had enough 500 words ago? Fine. I’ll stop. I’m still not thrilled with your attitude, though.

But enjoy your holidays, whether “Christmas Vacation” is your favorite Christmas movie or you prefer some other inferior film.

Look, that’s the best I can do.

Merry Christmas! Shitter was full!


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